I have to admit, I was wrong. About this time last year, I learned that JT Kenney, the hardcore tournament grinder from Palm Bay, Fla., was going to hang up his sticks and move to the broadcast booth, a new “celebrity commentator” for Major League Fishing.
My first assumption was Kenney was in it for the money. Well, the reliable, weekly paycheck kind of money. From there, I figured he’d quit within a year, once the phony-baloney television producers got ahold of him and made him cut his hair and clean up his act. If nothing else, Kenney would certainly change his cheerful opinion of the whole scenario once he watched a few of his bass buddies win a hundred grand while he pressed his khakis.
But I was wrong.
“Dude, I freakin’ love it.”
So was the outburst that started my interview with Kenney, explaining his continued joy for the job. I was surprised, really, to learn that Kenney is still competing in a half-dozen tournaments a year, with plans again this season to fish the Northern FLW Series events. And I was stunned when I heard that he misses no aspect of the big leagues.
“There is no part of me that wants to go back to tour-level competition.”
Maybe he wasn’t being transparent. Certainly, there had to be some aspect of the life that he missed. I know I do, and I was never as involved, or established, as the18-year veteran.
I quizzed Kenney more about the opportunities for anglers today and the instant celebrity status for those with more Instagram credentials than tournament wins. That had to make him envious, I assumed. It seems so easy to rise to the top compared to when he first started competition.
“The opportunities are immense. A guy can make a better living than when I was in it. But I was never about the celebrity thing. I just wanted to make enough money to go saltwater fishing,” Kenney asserted.
What about the workload? Didn’t he miss planning his own schedule?
“I’ve always been busy. The last four or five years, when I wasn’t fishing, I was doing social media work. That’s what I learned to do.”
Kenney confirmed that his broadcast duties cover about 100 days a year, including travel, and there’s no stipulation for extra-hours or appearances, something Kenney’s never been gung-ho about, to be frank.
This year will find Kenney broadcasting the BPT, as usual, along with a handful of days of FLW programming. In addition, all work will be done in a Tulsa, Okla. studio, rather than on-site, something Kenney won’t argue with.
“I won’t have to be freezing my ass off on that stage” he added.
Another change will come in the TV show focus. Whether they’ve announced it yet or not, according to Kenney, Major League Fishing plans to bring more televised focus to the winning tactics and patterns of the pros rather than the constant fish catches of previous seasons.
Perhaps the producers read my column, or listen to all of you, or both – in any case, they’re hearing our complaints about the endless dink-fests and changing formatting to match. I, for one, welcome the idea of learning a bit more about catching fish rather than just watching it happen.
In the long run, Kenney is slightly concerned with being logistically separated from the action. “Not being able to feel the conditions (say, the wind or humidity of the day) might be a slight downfall.” But he continues to understand his role.
“I’m not an expert. I’m the mediator" translating the action on the water to the less-experienced viewer.
To sum up, Kenney believes the revised BPT television product will be a lot better for tips and techniques, as demanded by most bassers. He adds that any tour-related anarchy or division, although polarized by the fans, is really a non-issue for the competitors who just, really, want to compete. Finally, Kenney believes the overall industry shake-up was a thing of necessity, and that, in the long run, any and all tournament leagues will benefit, as will the anglers involved.
But he’s not consumed by his absence, as I had once believed. And he has no plans to shake things up.
“I’m in a good place; I literally love what I’m doing. I’ve never yet had a day when I woke up and thought man, I don’t feel like going. When I fished the tour, I had a lot of those days.”
Regardless, Kenney always kept his chin up.
Funny how things work out when you do.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)